By: Mark Glennon*

The Food and Drug Administration last week published results from the first batch of COVID-19 antibody diagnostics to have their accuracy independently evaluated by federal laboratories. They looked at the 12 blood tests it already authorized for emergency use.

Tests made by Abbott Laboratories and Roche scored particularly well and are highly likely to give accurate results, according to the evaluation. As summarized by FierceBiotech, “Abbott’s test “showed a sensitivity of 100%, specificity of 99.6%, and positive and negative predictive values of 92.9% and 100%, respectively.” Roche’s test “showed 100% sensitivity and 99.8% specificity across multiple antibody types, with a positive predictive value of 96.5% and a negative predictive value of 100% at 5% prevalence.”

Antibody tests, also called serology tests, are important because they indicate how much of the population had coronavirus, though they probably never knew, and are therefore likely to be immune for some period of time. A surprisingly large prevalence of antibodies would indicate that the effective fatality is smaller than thought.

Though some other states had already been using antibody testing to inform policy, Governor JB Pritzker on April 24 announced that Illinois would not be running antibody tests and he has released no results from tests done so far. We criticized that in our April 27 article.

Why isn’t that being reported more broadly? Why isn’t that being discussed in Illinois’ daily briefings on the virus?

Legitimate concerns about antibody tests stem from some low-quality tests on the market with high rates of inaccuracy, leading to the danger of individuals unwisely relying on positive results to think they are immune. Additionally, it’s not completely certain whether, or for how long, antibodies provide immunity.

However, those concerns never were pertinent to the research and policy value of antibody testing. Researchers can correct for known error levels, according to those we cited in our earlier article. Results of the testing in some other states have shown a surprisingly large portion of the population with antibodies.

Surprisingly large prevalence of antibodies in turn has a huge effect on projections by making the number of likely future infections smaller, shifting the policy balance in favor of loosened restrictions.

The high accuracy rate of Abbott Labs’ test should come as no surprise. It has been claiming 99% accuracy since early April. Abbott is not the kind of company that would take the liability and reputational risk of such a claim if it did not have solid evidence. The FDA now confirmed that it does.

In short, Illinois never did have a good excuse for not collecting and publishing antibody data. Now it has none. On April 24 Pritzker said, “As soon as [antibody tests] prove themselves accurate and reliable, I will make it a priority to get them into our communities as widely as we can.” The press should hold him to that and asking about those Elgin and Roseland results, but don’t hold your breath.

Dr. Ezike and Gov. Pritzker at a daily briefing

That note takes us to a different topic: Will Pritzker, the press and Dr. Ngozi Ezike (Illinois’s director of public health) please get their story straight about unimportant but seemingly alarming “new case” numbers released daily?

Pritzker last week finally started saying what we’ve long said, which is that daily new case numbers mean little. That’s because, as Pritzker said, new cases are “really a function of how many tests we do.” Testing has exploded, now reaching as much as 17,000 per day in Illinois. More tests mean more reported cases.

But what’s the first thing Dr. Ezike announces every day? New case numbers. Her department’s daily press releases are headlined like this one from May 6: Public Health Officials Announce 2,270 New Cases of Coronavirus Disease.

The press parrots that misleadingly scary message back with similar headlines every day. Google “new cases Illinois” and see four yourself. On May 4 NBC Chicago ran a story about Pritzker explaining why new case numbers don’t matter much. But what was their headline a few hours later? “Illinois Reports 2,341 New Coronavirus Cases, Lifting State Total to 63,840.” Do they read their own articles?

We repeat our standard warning that none of this is meant to imply that the Wuhan virus isn’t dangerous. It is. But we think that threat is confined almost entirely to identifiable, at-risk groups in particularly areas and that a better balance must be struck against the economic catastrophe being inflicted by the shutdowns. We agree with the Wall Street Journal’s Friday editorial:

The tradeoff isn’t between lives and livelihoods. The policy goal has to be to protect both as much as possible. Deploy more personal protective equipment, greatly increase testing, build surge capability to handle flare-ups, and isolate society’s most vulnerable to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed. But for heaven’s sake reopen the economy so we don’t consign millions to years of poverty.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to delete reference to a Chicago Tribune report on antibody testing at Greater Elgin Family Care Center. Our reference incorrectly said they found a 60% positive testing rate for antibodies, which in fact was the rate for the test for the infection itself.

*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.

Click here to visit Wirepoints’ COVID-19 page and learn more about the impact the virus is having on Illinois.

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3 months ago

This article presents an excellent critique of local leadership. Any update on if/when the Roche serology test will be available in Chicagoland?

Jeff l
4 months ago

ep·i·de·mi·ol·o·gist
/ˌepəˌdēmēˈäləjəst/
noun
1.
a person who studies or is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases:
“epidemiologists are warning of a new pandemic”
Powered by Oxford Dictionaries

Maybe the governor should get and epidemiologist

instead of a pediatrician

True believer
4 months ago

Lori and Pritzker are using this disaster as an attempt to stop the economy to make trump look bad. Pure and simple. The shutdown will continue until after the election to help the country elect senile Biden and make America socialist. Then get a minority woman be president after he can’t serve. It’s a plan.

accept reality
4 months ago

Why not collect and release the serology tests??? Easy answer; no tests mean that Spanky and Buckwheat lose their reason for shutdown. No shutdown means no power to raise taxes and extort Federal bailout.

Barbara Costas
4 months ago
Reply to  accept reality

and to justify vote by mail

Richard Poo Millersky
4 months ago
Reply to  Barbara Costas

Doesn’t Illinois already have Vote By Mail? I know Chicago and Cook County does. 😑

Barbara Costas
4 months ago

yes of course we have absentee ballot. My poorly worded post ( sorry) was about my fear of a state wide voting by mail in November , like Gov. Newsome in Ca. just ok’d. 21 million mail- in votes in Ca.- what could go wrong- That’s what I fear our Gov will also do here.

Richard Poo Millersky
4 months ago
Reply to  Barbara Costas

I don’t think, vote by mail involves fear. 😑

Jason Meegan
4 months ago

I’m kinda confused by those results. My spouse is a manager at a pediatrics facility in South Elgin. They’ve been doing antibody testing for about 3 weeks. I myself took one and tested negative. Though I swear I had something in January and again February, so did she and my kids. She has been disappointed, the results are lower than expected. Meaning they do a large number of drive up antibody blood tests and send to Quest. Results come back in 24-48 hours. She estimates that about 95-98% are negative for antibodies. I’d say about a group of large group… Read more »

Jane
4 months ago

60% positive via Covid-19 test. Not 60% positive via the anti-body test.

Fur
4 months ago

Probably 60% of the people i ask about getting sick with an aggressive flu in Dec Jan Feb say yes. I had the worst flu I can remember the first week of January. I don’t receive flu shots and rarely get sick. But this one destroyed me for 6 days. Had a noticeably harder time breathing. I’ve likely been this sick before..no doubt..but its certainly possible it was the Wu.

Illinois Entrepreneur
4 months ago

Do you get the feeling, like I do, that they just don’t seem interested in grabbing success from the clutches of defeat? I have no trust for these people. They politicize everything, so I do as well. Every single thing they do I look at through the cynical lens of shrewd politics. I can only guess as to their motives on this one, and if I threw a dart, I’d say that maybe they just want credit for “saving lives” in what will be an absolute economic catastrophe in the next few months. If they didn’t need to do the… Read more »

Fur
4 months ago

“I have no trust for these people. They politicize everything, so I do as well. Every single thing they do I look at through the cynical lens of shrewd politics.”

Great comment. Agreed. It sucks doesn’t it?
Knowing you’re getting screwed just creates a burden of anxiety. Id fancy less!

They may be thinking everything out but their underlying corrupted morals and values ultimately taint their decisions. In the end they’re really just evil, power driven individuals.

Tom Paine's Ghost
4 months ago

Madigan’s ventriquilist dummy has a great reason to not publicize 60% positive general population Wuhan Virus antibody testing. It would expose his state shut-down as a fraud and undercut his goal of a $500 Billion federal bailout of Illinois pensions resulting in the greater objective of IL Democrat’s 50 more years of business as usual.

NB-Chicago
4 months ago

Mark–what’s the relationship between # of covid cases state (confirmed through testing) and fed funding? Hard to know from all the differnt fed programs i read about. Maybe states are getting fed $ based on confirmed covid test #s and not covid antibody testing #s?

NB-Chicago
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark Glennon

Thanks–wow, yes, that does explain a ton. Guess all states are now trying to find ways to spend fed $ thats supposed to go to covid related expences on whatever they want.There’s so many fed funds and programs i read about its imposible for anybody to keep up with.

Fed up neighbor
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark Glennon

Does anybody know the recovery rate in Illinois

NiteCat
4 months ago

Nope and we don’t know the recovery rate in the rest of the country either. Important piece of info needed to make a truly informed decision isn’t it??

dm2d1s
4 months ago
Reply to  NiteCat

I’ve wondered the same thing! The COVID-19 site shows # of cases tested positive, and # of deaths (regardless “If You Die of a Clear Alternative Cause, It’s Still Listed As A COVID Death” – Dr. Ngozi Ezike”) but NO WHERE do you see # of recovered cases in Illinois. hmmmmm